What We Do
In spring 2009, I lived with the General’s family on their coffee and tea farm in Meru, Kenya. For nearly a hundred hours over two and a half months, the General and I sat together. He shared not only his stories but also his life—his family, his home, his resources. He adopted me as an honorary juju, his granddaughter.
“These natives are unintelligent. We can’t understand their language.” –Nigerian Poet Chinweizu in Colonizer’s Logic
Until the British arrived, he explained, African children studied generations of history sitting at the feet of their elders. The legacy they transmitted included instruction in morals and expectations of behavior. But colonial administrators and missionaries effectively suppressed the tradition of oral history, telling Africans that true education takes place in the classroom. The General laments that children these days only seem to care about things as they relate to Western civilization.
If the time comes when children do care about their history, it probably won’t be alive anymore. And, for people who relied on storytelling to pass down history, books or videos won’t exist to replace the old men and women who remember the past.
Back in America, I transcribed my interviews with the General. For future projects, the story might end with archived transcripts. But I knew this material deserved a more polished form. Since October 2009, I’ve been working full-time, independently of TGHP, to write the General’s biography. In January 2011, I finished a second draft of the manuscript, and I’m awaiting news on publication. The book includes information on The General History Project and how to fund future projects.
The General History Project seeks to record the life stories of aging community leaders in their own words. By bringing these great first-person narratives to light, we promote cultural awareness, improve the historical record, and enrich the lives of all people, young and old. We want to make cultural and historical preservation a priority in places without the resources to do it on their own.
- Mutual understanding and celebration of common humanity
- Respect for the past, with appreciation for the remarkable capacity of people and situations to change
- Tolerance, unity, curiosity, and education
“I admit that it is a good thing to place different civilizations in contact with each other; that it is an excellent thing to blend different worlds; that whatever its own particular genius may be, a civilization that withdraws into itself atrophies; that for civilizations, exchange is oxygen . . . But then I ask you the following question: has colonization really placed civilizations in contact? Or, if you prefer, of all the ways of establishing contact, was it best?” – Aime Cesaire, author of Discourse on Colonialism
Where We Are Going
The General History Project wants to use this first collaboration between Laura Lee and the General as a template on which to build future projects. We want to find the “Generals” of other times and places—aging community leaders who have shaped history and remember different times. They talk wistfully about how things have changed and want to revive good elements of their culture that were sacrificed for “civilization.”